Lettuce is generally classified into four basic types and one of which is looseleaf lettuce.
Looseleaf lettuce, also known as leafy greens, are varieties of lettuce that don’t form compact heads. Instead, they are loose bunches of leaves that are joined by one single stem. Hence, where the name was in reference to. The leaves come in a wide range of red and green colors, with edges that are either smooth or ruffled. Their crispness level falls between romaine and butterhead, two of the other basic types of lettuce. However, they are generally more nutritious than them. They are also noted for their delicate and sweet flavor that works perfectly on many recipes across the world.
Moreover, looseleaf lettuce can be classified into four types: Red leaf, green leaf, green oak, and red oak. Red and green leaves offer a milder flavor while oakleaves offer a spicier and nuttier taste. That, along with the tender leaves it provides, makes looseleaf lettuce one of the favorite additions among salad mixes like spring or mesclun.
Meanwhile, green leaf lettuce is native to Europe. It was first mentioned in 1753, in the second volume of Carl Linnaeus’ book “Species Plantarum.” As this looseleaf variety is favored by gardeners, it has been extremely popular since the late 19th century. Nowadays, it can be found almost anywhere across the globe.
Species: L. Sativa
Binomial Name: Lactuca Sativa
Looseleaf Lettuce Trivia
- Looseleaf lettuce is the most commonly grown lettuce in California home gardens.
- The United States consumes 30 pounds of lettuce, on average, every single year.
- Some hieroglyphic records show that lettuce is being grown for over 60 centuries now.
Looseleaf Lettuce Buying Guide
Looseleaf lettuces are easy to find in the market. However, it might be confusing to know which variety of looseleaf lettuce is best to buy. But, don’t worry because you’ll find their different varieties below. In the meantime, here are some general guidelines on how to choose the best quality ones:
- The leaves should be vibrant and crisp. Avoid the ones that are starting to wilt or have wilted and dry. Furthermore, discard the ones that have yellow or brown spots.
- Check out for the tip burn. These are tan-colored spots that form around the leaf’s margins. This slight discoloration actually doesn’t hurt the lettuce’s quality, but it should still be avoided as it’s an indication that the leaves will have a lesser shelf life.
- Despite being crisp, the leaves should be tender, succulent, broad, and moderately smooth.
- If possible, buy organic lettuces. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, lettuce from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you’ll be able to meet and help your community. You’ll also get the chance to know more about the other lettuces that might suit your needs!
Looseleaf Lettuce Varieties:
- Red Leaf Lettuce – This variety can easily be distinguished by its elongated, frilly, and pliable leaves that go wider and looser towards the tip. The standard ones have green leaves that turn deep-red as it reaches the tip. However, other cultivars like the New Red Fire Lettuce and Merlot can be purely maroon. And, speaking of cultivars, other cultivars of red leaf lettuce include Lollo Rossa, Red Sails Lettuce, Ruby Red, Galactic Lettuce, Benito Lettuce, and Redina Lettuce. Nevertheless, they all grow between 5 and 6 inches long, and they provide a mild flavor that goes well on salads, sandwiches, burgers, and other raw applications.
- Green Leaf Lettuce – Like red leaf lettuce, this variety also has elongated, frilly, and pliable leaves that go wider and looser as it reaches the tip. The only distinction is that this one is green in color. Nevertheless, this lettuce is crisp and it provides a mildly sweet flavor, which is enhanced as it matures. It also goes well on salads, wraps, sandwiches, or burgers. In addition, they’re also popular to be used in French dip and croque-monsieur, meat beds, stir-fries, and even grilled seafood or braised meats. Meanwhile, green leaf lettuce also has varied cultivars. These include Austrian Greenleaf, Black-seeded Simpson, American Salad Bowl, and Grand Rapids.
- Red Oakleaf Lettuce – This variety has elongated, lobed, and loosely serrated leaves that resemble that of oakleaves. It forms a semi-tight rosette shape, with burgundy stained leaves that grow upward and outward. Red Oakleaf is known for its nutty and sweet flavor that is accompanied by an incredibly mellow and buttery texture. It is best enjoyed raw in salads, summer rolls, wraps, and tacos. But, it can also be braised and paired with meats, vegetables, and soups. Meanwhile, some cultivars of red oakleaf include Cobham, Danyelle, Oscarde, Paradai, Vulcan, and Red Coral.
- Green Oakleaf Lettuce – Like the red oakleaf, this variety also has elongated, lobed, and loosely serrated leaves that resemble that of oakleaves. It also forms a semi-tight rosette shape. However, the stained leaves that grow upward and outward are green in color. Compared to its red variety, green oakleaf provides a milder nutty and sweet flavor that is accompanied by a mellow and buttery texture. And while it’s also best enjoyed raw in salads, rolls, wraps, sandwiches, and tacos, it makes the perfect bed for fruit and cheese plates – so colorful, flavorful, and nutritious!
Looseleaf Lettuce Production & Farming in Texas
In Texas, looseleaf lettuces are traditionally planted from January to February for spring harvest that occurs between March to April, and in September for fall harvest, which occurs in November. The most popular leafy lettuces to be grown in the state includes Firecracker, Red Salad Bowl, Red Sails, Tango, Winter Density, and Cerbiatta. Like most of the lettuce varieties, looseleaf lettuces also perform well in rich and loamy soil that is abundant in organic matter. They also need lots of water to produce tender, succulent leaves.
Although looseleaf lettuces are more perishable than the head varieties, they’ve become the home gardeners’ favorites. They prefer to grow looseleaf varieties than the head ones because it’s easier to harvest the outer leaves when needed instead of having to harvest the entire plant. The new leaves always start to grow from the center, so removing the outer ones does not retard or disturb its growth. As a matter of fact, this harvesting style will guarantee that you’ll have a continuous supply of looseleaf lettuce with no downtime.
They are also not susceptible to pests after the first frost so you can enjoy fresh, abundant, and continuous leafy greens from November to early May. Homegrown leafy greens contain more vitamins and minerals than the store-bought ones so consider growing them yourself.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA.
Generally speaking, leafy greens are susceptible to pests. That’s why they are often grown with high amounts of pesticides. And, it’s not something that can just be washed away with water. Even after a thorough cleaning, residues remain on the crop. In fact, during the testing period for the 2012 Dirty Dozen List, they found 78 different pesticides on them.
Thus, it is better to buy organic ones or grow them yourself to reduce the amounts of your pesticide consumption.
Looseleaf lettuces are mostly cold climate crops. They are widely produced around the world, but China remains to be the leading producer, accounting for 55% of the world’s total production by weight. In the United States, around 71% of the looseleaf lettuce comes from California, except from November to March when 90% of the country’s lettuce comes from the city of Yuma in Arizona.
Just like all the other lettuces, looseleaf lettuce also comes in loose plastic bags or containers. These are packaged and priced by the bundle or bunches. Some stores, especially in the farmers’ markets, also sell them by weight, either by the kilogram or pound. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these greens in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Meanwhile, you can also buy Romaine lettuce seeds that come in pouches.
Enjoying Looseleaf Lettuce
Looseleaf lettuces are traditionally eaten raw or fresh. They are commonly served as salads, but they can also be found on sandwiches, wraps, and more. It provides a tender yet crisp texture, along with an earthy flavor that everybody loves. That’s why they also make great beds for meat, seafood, and even eggs.
One of the reasons why growers love looseleaf lettuce is that they can harvest the leaves just before eating it. The leaves are then washed well and spin-dried prior to incorporating the dressing and finally serving. Drying lettuce is extremely important as the excess water can prevent dressings to coat and stick onto the leaves. It will also lessen the shelf-life if that’s the case.
Since looseleaf lettuce has leaves that form a single stalk rather than the head varieties, they are more perishable. Thus, it is very important for them to be wrapped unwashed in a loose bag lined with a bunch of paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, looseleaf lettuce will retain its freshness for 3 to 5 days. Dressed, however, they will only last for 1 to 3 days.
Meanwhile, looseleaf lettuce should not be frozen due to its high water content. If you freeze this lettuce and you thaw them later on, the leaves will not only wilt but it will also be extremely slimy.
Surprisingly, looseleaf lettuce is also popularly cooked! Indeed, wilted lettuce salads have been trending nowadays. Simply render bacon fat in a skillet and stir in vinegar and/or sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, pour over lettuce, and lightly toss to incorporate. Top with some crispy bacon and serve warm!
Looseleaf lettuces are generally low in fat, sodium, and calories. Not to mention that their calories are mainly composed of water and fiber – not sugar. They also have a considerable amount of protein per calorie. But, looseleaf lettuce varieties are mostly noted for their vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. They’re high in vitamins K (78% of DV), A (53% of DV), and C (11% of DV), along with folate, potassium, manganese, iron, and calcium.
When Are Looseleaf Lettuce in Season in Texas?
To find out when Looseleaf Lettuce are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.